New Delhi : Hours after the Election Commission on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it would put off by-elections to the 15 Karnataka Assembly seats till the three judge bench decides on the petitions by the 17 disqualified legislators, the Congress hit back, saying it appears to have postponed the polls under government instructions.
These polls were scheduled for October 21.
In a series of tweets, Congress General Secretary K.C. Venugopal said, "The decision of the Supreme Court to not interfere with the election process is in the spirit of the Constitution. The Supreme Court not only declined to grant stay on Athe disqualifications, but also decided to treat the merit of the matter independently."
"One wonders at the wisdom of the Election Commission as it appears to have postponed the elections under instructions of the government to favour their agenda," Venugopal, who is also the Karnataka Congress in-charge, said.
His remarks came after the poll panel informed the apex court that it would postpone the bypolls to the Assembly seats, which fell vacant after the then Speaker disqualified the 17 rebelled legislators.
Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, representing the Election Commission, assured the bench headed by Justice N.V. Ramana that the poll panel will defer the by-elections date for the 15 assembly seats.
The top court then deferred the matter for October 22 and asked all the parties to file their responses in the matter.
The poll panel told the court that the Representation of the People Act mandates it to fill the casual vacancies of state legislatures through by-elections within six months from the date of occurrence of the vacancy, so it can defer the poll.
Vacancy of these seats was notified on July 25 and July 28 and the poll panel still has time (till January) to fill them, Dwivedi said.
Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala dubbed the Election Commission move as "unprecedented". Addressing a press conference, Surjewala said, "There were rampant defections in Karnataka mocking at the Constitution and the anti-defection law enshrined in the Constitution where an elected government with majority was unseated by a group of defectors, who were rightfully in accordance with the jurisdiction of the Speaker under the Constitution were disqualified."
He said until today the Supreme Court has not stayed the order of the Speaker, which means the order must be correct.
On Saturday, in a blow to the former rebel MLAs, the poll panel announced the dates for the bypolls in 15 assembly seats in the southern state on October 21.
The by-elections for the 15 seats was necessitated after 17 rebel MLAs of the then Congress and the JD-S resigned and abstained from attending the 10-day assembly session in mid-July, leading to the fall of their 14-month coalition government on July 23.
Significantly, the schedule of the by-elections means the disqualified MLAs will not be able to re-contest.
In a dramatic turn of events, former Karnataka Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar disqualified the 17 rebel MLAs till the end of the current Assembly term running from 2018 to 2023, on July 25 and July 28, days after the coalition government fell and its chief minister resigned.